THIS year more than any other I have come to understand how important it is to connect to nature – and how so many of us feel cheered up by wildlife.

Like many faced with lockdown, I turned to the internet when the pandemic hit as my only way of sharing my paintings and animal films.

And I was taken aback by the response. Followers of my social media channels soared as people around the world tuned in to watch stories of egg-laying and hatching from my owl and kestrel nest boxes and films of the young animals I rehabilitate.

My inbox also filled with people from as far afield as Alaska and Myanmar expressing their joy at seeing my wildlife films, photographs, and paintings.

The animals I rehabilitate here at Fotherdale even developed their own worldwide fanbase and I found myself responding on behalf of these creatures as they asked after them by name.

There was Whisper the stoat kit with a barely audible squeak who grew to become amusingly vocal after she received a playmate, a stoat kit her own age named Stuart.

Other players were Eric and Ernie, two tawny owl chicks I successfully fostered with a family of wild tawny owls living in the valley below my garden.

And, of course, Needles and Pins, two baby hedgehogs so adored as they scurried about their enclosure on my porch their names were chosen for them by their social media fans.

Some of the stories I shared seemed to echo with our human lives in lockdown. Among them was Solo, an only barn owl chick whose solitary life resonated with the loneliness of the pandemic.

Her life, and that of her two owl siblings, Hans & Grete, drew a huge online following. Within weeks of sharing live footage from their nest box onto YouTube, my channel gained 100k subscribers and a prestigious “Silver Button” award.

And this month this grew to 138k after I introduced a rescued barn owl named Howard to the nest and live-streamed the responses of Hans, Grete and the rest of the owl family as they got to know this vulnerable owlet.

The livestream now has an average of 2.6m viewers a month from all over the world. A great deal of these people said that watching the animals eases the anxiety and loneliness of these difficult times.

One tale that resonated particularly with families during the March lockdown was how my own daughters, adapting to home-schooling, learned to share their climbing frame with wildlife.

My footage of badgers, stoats, and owls at play on their trampoline and swinging on the climbing ropes, caught the attention of producers for the BBC’s The One Show and was hugely popular when it was screened on the TV show this summer.

Its success led to more One Show lockdown stories from Fotherdale – including one about a female kestrel who bravely fought off brutal raids on her nest to raise her chicks here.

Mrs Kes, as I named her, was a stoical bird and I was so impressed by the way she determinedly fought off attacks from both a tawny owl and a jackdaw, I felt compelled to paint her portrait.

The painting has pride of place at my Christmas exhibition, now showing at my gallery in Thixendale and also accessible online.

The event, “Connecting to Nature”, was inspired by the way my work has connected with nature this year and I feel the portrait of Mrs Kes, more than any other, embodies this.

Photographs, video, and livestreams from my barn owl and stoat nests are also on view.

So, however you would like to visit me this year, whether you are happy to drive up to Thixendale and make a day of it, or if you prefer to stay safely at home and visit virtually, I hope you will join me to celebrate the way nature has helped us through the worst of times this year, and how it can continue to nurture us.

You can book a small, private viewing to see “Connecting With Nature” at the gallery in Thixendale or online at until December 24.